March 15, the Ides of March, was a monumental day for the NFL and for the Jets.
That was the day that Aaron Rodgers went on "The Pat McAfee Show" and declared his intention to not only play in the coming 2023 season, but to also play for the New York Jets.
"That day was the day we said 'hey stop the computers for a couple of minutes and let's talk,' " Mike North, the league's Vice President of NFL Broadcast Planning & Scheduling told team reporter Eric Allen on a special, post-schedule announcement edition of "The Official Jets Podcast." North, who has been with the NFL for 25 years, has been part of the broadcasting department for the past 22 years as part of the team that constructs the schedules for the league's 32 teams' 17-game slates and network partners.
"Some of these 272 assets [that is the total number of regular-season games] are worth this much and are worth that much with Aaron Rodgers. Certainly playing Kansas City and getting a [Patrick] Mahomes/Rodgers game [lost with Covid] is good for us. We had to take a moment to stop and evaluate. Part of it is art, part science, and gut instincts and what game I would want to watch. What sounds like a football game, there's some to it, doing predictive analytics, which team is going to be good, who's going to be in the playoff chase. Which are the good matchups, which will generate viewership for the fans. There was the social [media] buzz with Rodgers to the Jets. Rodgers to the Jets makes everyone more interested. So we had a one-day stop. If Rodgers becomes a Jet, can we do this or that?
The Week 4 game between the defending league champion and the Green & White was slotted into Sunday night slot, Oct. 1 when the Chiefs visit MetLife Stadium. In a noteworthy quirk, the game will be the first in which teams quarterbacked by Mahomes and Rodgers face each other. Mahomes missed the 2019 game vs. Rodgers and the Packers because of knee injury and Rodgers did not play in the 2021 game between the teams after he tested positive for the coronavirus. Between them, the two elite signal-callers have won six league MVP awards (Rodgers has four) three Super Bowl MVP awards (Rodgers has one) and three NFL titles (Rodgers with one again).
The deal to bring Rodgers from Wisconsin to the New York market did not get done until several days before the NFL Draft in late April.
"It dragged on, and we wondered if we get through the draft and the deal doesn't get done is there a chance it doesn't happen," North said. "Should we rethink our decisions? There was a hedge your bet plan. Now if he stays healthy and they stay relevant it's really going to be good for our fans."
Then the trade became official and North and his staff, both human and computer, were able to "take that trepidation away" and "grind forward and continue on path and land this plan on May 11."
On Thursday morning, word seeped out that the Jets would host AFC rival Buffalo on "Monday Night Football" on Sept. 11, preceded by news on Wednesday that the Jets and Dolphins would play the league's first game on Black Friday, the day after the Thanksgiving tripleheader, kicking off at 3 p.m. ET on Amazon (no subscription to Prime required). Each of the NFL's 32 teams received their 17-game schedules this past Wednesday, the league's TV partners -- CBS, Fox, NBC, ESPN and Amazon -- received the schedule on Thursday, hours before the league's official announcement that night.
"I'm glad it's over," North said. "It was a bit of a death march."
So, with the acquisition of Rodgers, a young and promising roster, an emergent defense and a strong 2022 season, the Jets have morphed from a matinee darling (14 of 17 games kicked off at 1 p.m. Eastern last season) to a marquee, primetime attraction with six evening games (two each on Sunday, Monday and Thursday nights). In addition, the Green & White is slated for four late doubleheader games (kicking off at 4:25 p.m. Eastern). And then there's the Black Friday matchup (3 p.m. kickoff) against the visiting Dolphins.
"It's going to be a first for us," North said. "Our friends at Amazon were eager for it. It's a big retail day and they are a big retail partner, that's their Super Bowl. The game has been moved in front of the [Prime] paywall and fans only need an internet connection. There aren't a lot of windows to put an NFL game where we haven't, and that was one of them. That weekend is such a big sports weekend -- three games on Thanksgiving, we usually have a good [Sunday] doubleheader, and that Friday afternoon felt like an itch we could scratch. Now there's a game that feels like more people should be able to see. Getting that game to a national window is going to be fun. We wanted to find the right divisional game in Year 1, those games always matter."
Some other highlights from the podcast:
• North said that the league had discussed with the Jets and the Giants about playing on Monday night, Sept. 11. "We thought it was appropriate that one of the New York teams play that Monday night," North said. "We talked to both of them, knowing that they're playing in the preseason. But both said they would be comfortable turning around. Both teams said yes if it was the right thing for the league." He added: "With the Jets, we can do Aaron Rodgers' first game on Monday night, he gets the whole day to himself, we get the ESPN hype machine pointing toward his first game with the Jets and the focus of the whole country. On Sunday, we have a whole day of games, two doubleheaders, and this way [the Jets] get a whole day focused on their game. We love the idea of a New York home game, Aaron Rodgers' first playing Josh Allen and the Bills."
• On the buzz around the Jets in the New York metropolitan area: "Every city in the country just feels bigger, buzzier, people are happier when their football team is good." North added: "It's good for the NFL and our media partners in the country's biggest market. The schedule makers look smart when the Jets, Giants, Rams, Chargers and the Niners are all playing well, the rest is all out of our hands."
See the 17-game slate for the 2023 season in images.
• Why not the Jets-Cowboys on Thanksgiving in a reunion between Rodgers and his former coach in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy, for the second year in a row? "We thought about Thanksgiving," North said. "For a dozen years, the Cowboys game at 4:25 has universally been our most-watched game of the season. We just thought it's better if someone else goes in there. It's a recipe for good viewership. We looked at the Jets-Dallas, and just felt like a Jets-Dallas game could generate a higher ceiling [as a standalone at 4:25 in Week 2]. We looked at the Jets-Cowboys on Sunday, Monday, Thanksgiving and [the late] doubleheader game. It could have gone anywhere."
In a schedule-making quirk, the Jets will play 10 of their first 15 games (three night games) at MetLife Stadium, including a 1 p.m. tilt as the "visiting" team against the Giants in Week 8, after the Jets' bye. The Green & White will finish the regular season at Cleveland on Thursday night, Dec. 28, then complete the regular season at New England in their one flex game.
"We were really challenging each other to find that magical, mythical perfect schedule," North said. "I'm not sure we did, but I hope we're close. Now it's up to guys on the field."